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Pierre Poilievre, second left, Conservative Party leadership candidate, attends a party barbecue in Calgary, on July 9.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

The Conservative Party leadership race, already hollowed out by the mysterious disqualification of one of two leading candidates, has cratered a little more since, with the other main contender refusing to take part in a debate next week.

Pierre Poilievre, the front-runner, released a snarky missive last week saying he would be too busy getting out the vote to bother with anything as unimportant as an event designed to test the mettle of a leadership candidate.

Another candidate, Leslyn Lewis, said she would only take part if organizers agreed to ask questions about such vital issues as the World Economic Forum and the side effects of COVID-19 vaccines.

This follows the party’s disqualification of Patrick Brown, a progressive and the leading challenger to Mr. Poilievre, over allegations of inappropriate campaign tactics – allegations that have changed from one week to the next.

The debate-without-debaters will deprive the race’s other progressive, Jean Charest, of one of his few opportunities to catch Mr. Poilievre, the candidate with by far the most support among MPs, senators and the party establishment – a point reinforced this week when Stephen Harper endorsed Mr. Poilievre for leader.

We would like to pause now for a Heritage Minute. Subject: the complexity and scale of this place we all call home.

Canada is the second largest country in the world. It has a $2.2-trillion economy, and a federal government budget this year of $462-billion. As a federation, it is tied together by a constitution that divides responsibilities among levels of government, making the need for co-operation a fact of life.

Canada is neighbour to the world’s largest economy, the United States, and is part of a continental free trade agreement. It is an Atlantic nation, a Pacific nation and an Arctic nation. It’s part of the Group of Seven, NATO, the World Trade Organization, the Commonwealth and a host of other international bodies through which a government must diplomatically further the national interest.

Canada is blessed with natural resources, and always needs to find a balance between economy and environment. It also faces dire challenges, from a crisis in health care, to chronically low productivity growth, climate change, war in Ukraine, the rise of China and new waves of COVID-19.

All of which means that the job of prime minister – of leading the federal government – is the biggest and most important job in this big and important land. That’s relevant to the Conservative Party leadership race.

Or at least it should be.

The party’s method for selecting a new leader has been put to the test three times since Mr. Harper bowed out after the 2015 election. It keeps coming up short, thanks among other things to a ranked-ballot system that forces candidates to seek the support of fringe groups that dominate the party membership.

The previous leader, Erin O’Toole, found himself trying and failing to pivot from the crankish positions he embraced to win over the narrow band of party members who select a leader, to the more moderate views of the broader electorate, who decide elections.

The problem is systemic, and this year’s Conservative leadership race is going according to script, only more so. Mr. Poilievre has shilled for cryptocurrencies, gone gaga over the freedom convoy, courted anti-vaxxers and played footsie with conspiracy theories about the World Economic Forum – all of which helped him sell party memberships.

Mr. Poilievre’s campaign has pushed a lot of ideas from the fringe, and it has served him well. But has it served the party? Or Canada? As was shown in the previous leadership race, the obsessions of tens of thousands of Conservative members are not those of millions of Canadian voters. When Mr. Poilievre’s predecessors tried to pivot from courting the former to wooing to the latter, they faced a credibility gap.

The twist this time is that the next Conservative leader may have a better-than-average shot at winning the next general election, in 2025, because the Trudeau government will by then have been in office 10 years, which historically has been the best-before date for a party in power.

And that means a process that is not exactly designed to pick the best person to run a country as complex as Canada could be the one that gives us our next prime minister.

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